Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Capon with Raisin Sauce -- Another recipe from the Transylvanian Cookbook

It is time to pick a recipe from the Transylvanian Prince's Cookbook!

This is the digital translation of a book in Hungarian that I have tried recipes from before.  Here is the book reference:

The Prince of Transylvania’s court cookbook 

From the 16th century 


You can find a copy of it here:

The recipes I have tried are here:  Prince of Transylvania's court cookbook

Before I get started, I want to say that reading this book and considering how I would redact the recipes is quite a joy.  Some look straightforward and some are intriguing and some make me wonder what I'm supposed to do.  Parsing through these categories inspires me to think, create, and experiment, all of which are activities I love to do.  I am so glad I get to do this.

Today I picked recipe number 175, found on page 40.

Capon with raisin sauce.

Don’t boil the water to be as hot as for the old geese; then remove the feathers, scorch it, wash it, cut the animal’s nails; put its gizzards into another clean water pot; then put it into another pot, and keep it there until you cook it. When cooking it, stitch it and add some salt; while you’re cooking it, make some sauce. Do it like so. Take a very good wine or mead, we use wine in Transylvania. Add some honey to the wine so that it will be sweet, break some juniper berries; add some currants, saffron, but don’t add black pepper. Chop a loaf of white bread into cubes, fry it in butter, but don’t burn it; add some spices and ginger. Put equal amounts of sugar, cinnamon and ginger into it. When serving it, put the fried bread into the sauce. Slice the capon and put it into the plate. Add some spices. Serve it when hot. Do the same with a fat hen.

My Redaction

Fortunately I don't have to deal with preparing a live chicken for cooking (although I have done that in my ancient past).  The focus of this recipe is really the sauce and that is what my redaction addresses. 

So for my "fat hen", I simply rinsed and dried it, then put it in my Dutch oven and sprinkled it with  1/2 teaspoon of salt.  It baked, covered, in a 400 degree F oven for about 1 hour, where the last ten minutes had the lid off to allow it to brown a little.  The result was tender and moist, and perfectly ready for serving.

Sauce Ingredients

2 cups white wine (I used chardonnay)
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tablespoon juniper berries
5 threads saffron
2 tablespoons raisins or currants (I used raisins)

about 6 ounces white bread (I used sourdough), crusts removed
1/2 tablespoon each of cinnamon, ginger, and sugar (*see note below)
butter for frying (I used about 1/2 of a stick or 1/8 of a pound)
more raisins or currants for garnish (I used currants)

Sauce ingredients
Timing seemed important here:  I thought the juniper berries and raisins would need time to hydrate in the sauce (no crunchy berries wanted) and for the sauce flavors to blend.  So I started the sauce as soon as the hen went into the oven and worked with it from there.

First I crushed the juniper berries in the mortar.  I decided I didn't want finely crushed particles, but I did work them until there were small bits with just a few larger ones.

This is a two-part sauce. 

I put the wine, juniper berries, raisins, honey, and saffron into a pan over a very low heat.  I stirred them to mix and then put the lid on the pan. 

After about 10 minutes, the liquid was simmering slowly.  I let it simmer for a few minutes and then turned the heat off. 

While that was sitting, I cubed the bread into about 1/2 inch pieces and mixed the equal parts of cinnamon, ginger, and sugar in a small bowl.

I decided to fry the bread cubes in small batches, adding butter as I needed it, and stirring them often so they wouldn't burn.  It worked well to add butter twice:  once at the beginning just before I added the cubes, and then again about half way through, when the pan started looking dry.

Partly toasted and almost ready for more butter
Toasted and ready to leave the pan
Once the bread cubes were toasted, I moved them into a bowl and sprinkled them with the cinnamon-ginger-sugar mixture.  Then I tossed them to make sure the bread cubes were lightly coated with the spices.

Tossing to distribute the spice mixture
My goal was to spice the bread cubes but not over do it.  I kept thinking about the flavor balances in the whole sauce and decided I could always add more spice mix to the final sauce if I felt it needed it.

When the hen was about 10 minutes from being cooked, I reheated the wine mixture, again over very low heat.  I wanted it steaming hot and not really simmering.  Letting it wait while the hen cooked was a good idea:  the raisins and juniper berries were much softer and the flavors had infused the wine.  I turned off the heat before adding the bread cubes.

The second heating
I let the hen rest out of the oven while I combined the two parts of the sauce.  My concern was this:  How much of the bread should be put into the wine mixture?  What was the goal?  I decided to put it all in (but I did it in two batches, just to be sure) because I decided the sauce should not be runny.  I was okay with it being fairly thick, as long as it was moist and flavorful.

As I expected, the bread cubes soaked up the wine mixture.  After some stirring and letting the sauce sit while I carved the hen, there was very little liquid in the sauce.  I felt I had achieved the goal of the recipe.

I chose to use just the breast meat.  Once it was sliced and on the serving dish, I sprinkled it with the cinnamon-ginger spice mixture.

Then I spooned the sauce over the meat and garnished it with currants.

The Verdict

I served it with a tossed green salad and warm bread. 

First off, let me say that it was very, very good.  The sauce was moist and flavorful; I would liken its texture to a bread stuffing that was very wet.   However it was not runny, which made it easy to eat and to spread across the meat as I was eating it.

My guest taster and I agreed that there were layers of flavor that you "tunneled" your way through as you were eating it.  If I focused, I could tasted the saffron, but mostly it was a background flavor.  I liked how the cinnamon and ginger worked together, making the sauce very complex in its flavor range.

I was glad, too, that I sprinkled the meat with as much spice mixture as I did.  I think it increased the flavor levels without making the spice levels of the sauce overwhelming.

Despite the honey and sugar, the sauce wasn't sweet.  I would be fine with it being sweeter, but I knew in advance that my guest taster would not appreciate that, so I held back on the honey.  As it was, he kept thinking I had put apples in the sauce until I told him about the honey.  (Personally, I think sauteed apples would be a good addition.)

The butter in which the bread was fried became part of the sauce, lending a richness and a satisfying mouthfeel that was welcomed.

We differed in opinion only on one aspect of the sauce:  its bitterness level.  It was not so bitter as to put me off -- I had no problem eating it! -- but it was almost that bitter.  I couldn't decide if it was from the dry white wine or the juniper berries.  I decided that if I made this again, I would use fewer berries, maybe 1/2 teaspoon before crushing them.  He actually loved the bitterness and was glad it was there.  This is truly a matter of personal taste.

So success!  We enjoyed the meal and discussing all the flavors in the sauce.  I would make it again and be willing to serve it to guests. 

*One note:  I could have done with less of this spice mixture as I had a lot left over.  I would probably use 1 teaspoon each instead of 1/2 tablespoon. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Sohan Halwa -- A Persian sweet for a Sweet New Year!

Welcome to 2019!  This is the beginning of my EIGHTH year of blogging about historical cooking.  I am astonished that I have been able to do this and keep it going.  It has been fun, intriguing, and educational, but most of all it has been a source of pleasure to meet people who like to cook historical recipes, too.

For the record, this is my 167th post and my blog has had over 64,000 page views from people around the world.  I am honored they have read my work and hope they have benefited from it.

I decided 2019 needs to be a sweet year, so I chose a sweet recipe to help kick the year off right!

My friend M is a lovely Persian woman who is also smart, pleasant, and very kind.  Occasionally we have a chance to talk about food and its preparation, and it is fun to see what sorts of recipes she has been preparing for her family.

One day she showed me a picture of some Persian sweets she had made.  Impressive!  Beautiful!  They looked like a professional confectioner had made them.  One in particular was pink and shaped like roses.  M told me they were called "Sohan Halwa" and they were the soft kind.

I knew the word "halwa" or "halva" as a confection made from ground sesame seeds and I have tried several flavor varieties, and liked them.  But this was different:  Instead of sesame, it was made from wheat flour and there was a very specific way to treat the flour that I had never tried.

So M dictated to me the ingredients she uses and the method she follows.  I tried it once and brought her the results; I was glad I had because I had not gotten the flour cooking method right.  M was able to help me understand what I needed to change.  I tried it again and she declared it, "Just right!"

Here is the recipe she shared with me:

Sohan Halwa

200 grams white wheat flour
90 grams butter, softened
200 grams powdered sugar
4 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons rose powder
1 drop of food coloring

You can see the rose powder in one bag and the whole rose petals in another
Put the flour in a dry, shallow frying pan over medium heat.  Set the timer for 5 minutes and cook the flour while stirring it continuously.  The flour should change color but only to the palest ivory color.  The goal is to get the flour hot and to cook out the raw flavor, but not let it get browned at all.

Barely off-white, but very warm
Put the cooked flour in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients.  Stir well or, if it is cool enough,  mix with your hands, until you have a uniformly mixed, soft, pink ball of dough.

This was the first correct attempt.
Press the dough into a buttered pan or individual molds.  M bought a set of rose-shaped molds and was very pleased with the result.

Put the pan or molds into the refrigerator to chill.  After it is firm, cut the slab into small pieces and serve.

My Notes

I chose unsalted butter and red food coloring.  Also, I weighed the flour, sugar, and butter before I started the cooking process.

M had given me the bag of powdered roses and the bag of whole rose petals; later I found an online source for food-grade dried roses so I could make my own powder.  It was simple to put the petals into my (never-for-coffee-beans) coffee grinder and turn them to powder.

After the dough has formed -- all the ingredients came together easily and quickly, and the butter didn't melt as much as got softer -- I used my hands to push it into the buttered pan.  After it had been pushed over most of the pan, I put a sheet of waxed paper over the top and used a glass to roll the dough to an even thickness and smooth the surface.  My fingers were just the right tool to push the dough down on the edges of the dough to help keep them uniform, too.

This is the first correct attempt.
Then I used a knife to score (not cut all the way through) lines on the surface to show the pieces.  I used a tiny appetizer fork to press a design into each piece.

Second correct attempt.  Less coloring and smaller piece size.
After that, I covered it and put it into the refrigerator to chill.  The next day (but several hours would have worked, I think), I popped it from the pan and cut it into pieces.

The Verdict

I made this correctly twice.  The first time was just as M had instructed me to do.  She tasted it and declared that it was exactly what she expected.  Hooray!  I loved the strong rose flavor and the creamy texture and the sweetness.

Success!  It was good!  The only part that I would change is cutting it into smaller pieces.  It is rich enough that a small piece would have been better.  Perhaps about 1 inch x 1 inch in size.

But there was a part that my other guest tasters (many of them) wanted to change:  the strength of the rose flavoring.  People who are not accustomed to it found it too strong.  The scent gets to your nose first and your taste buds next, and some people were put off by just the scent.  Others were willing to try it (they liked the scent) but the taste was too much.

So I tried it again, and this time I used 2 tablespoons rose water and 2 tablespoons water.  This gave me the same result for texture but a lighter rose scent, which people liked much better.  One guest taster said she could taste the sweet and the butter more that way.

My advice to you is to know your audience.  If they already like the rose flavoring, as I do, then use the full strength.  If not, back it off a little or a lot to help them appreciate it before they even take a bite.

My thanks goes to the lovely M for sharing this recipe and for giving me the dried roses.

And I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Chile Relleno Souffle -- one of my Most Favorites

I always reserve the last post of the year for one of my favorite recipes.  This year I am sharing with you a recipe I have been making since the early 1980s!  It is quick and easy to assemble, and tastes great.

This particular recipe isn't the specific one I've used because I seem to have the habit of acquiring a recipe for it, then losing it, then acquiring another one and losing it, again and again.  I'm not sure why this keeps happening, but it never mattered because every one of them has been good!

A thick book with about 600 recipes, I'd estimate
This recipe I found in one of my Ladies' Group cookbooks; that is, one published as a fund-raiser for the group.  My aunt JS gave this book to me from her collection; it is from the Volunteer League of San Fernando Valley, published in 1976.  It is called "More of Our Best" because their first edition was published in 1968.  From the Foreword:

It contains recipes selected from hundreds of favorites submitted by Volunteer League members, their families and friends.  Over a 4-year period, members of the League tested all recipes so that we could present to you what are, in our opinion, the very best of the lot.
Most of the recipes in our collection are easy to prepare.  Because Volunteer League members are busy being wives, mothers and homemakers as well as active participants in community activities -- and in some cases also students or wage earners -- we appreciate the shortcuts to good cooking that mixes and prepared foods provide.

This is what I love about the ladies' group cookbooks:  They all contribute and they only contribute their best.  In this case, they also tested their best to find the best of the best!  You can rely on their recipes to be good.  My aunt was one of those wives, mothers, homemakers, and wage earners.  She also did community service.  I don't know if she was a member of the League or not, but she would have appreciated the recipes no matter what, and she loved San Fernando Valley.

The versions of the souffle I've made over the years had some different ingredients, like a bit of baking powder to fluff it or salt-and-pepper, and they had different ratios of the ingredients.  But still, they were all very tasty!

Chile Relleno Souffle (page 211)

"Can be served hot or cold (we like it hot best) as an appetizer, or cut in larger squares and served for lunch or as an addition to a Mexican dinner."

2 small cans diced green chilies
1/2 lb grated Jack cheese
1/2 lb grated Cheddar cheese
4 eggs
1 small can evaporated milk
Four ingredients, if you count all the cheese as one.
Grease bottom and sides of an 8 inch square pan.  Spread chilies on the bottom and sprinkle cheese over chilies.  Beat eggs with milk and pour over casserole.  Do not stir.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  This dish will puff up and be golden brown on top.  Cut into squares.  Serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as a main dish.  -- Mrs. Patrick C. Ross

My Notes

Drain the chilies, even if there is only a little liquid in the can with them.  These chilies are often labeled as "Ortega chilies."

Spread those chilies across the bottom.
I had a block of mixed Jack and Cheddar cheese, but it wasn't quite a pound so I included some more Cheddar, too.

The cheese filled the deep dish pan!
Beat the eggs well before adding the milk.  I used a 12 ounce can of evaporated milk.  This is probably bigger than what the recipe is calling for; it is okay to put in two more eggs to make sure it firms up well.  I used four eggs this time.

One pound of cheese is A LOT of shredded cheese!  I used a deep dish pie pan and then pushed the cheese down into the egg mixture before baking.

With the egg and milk mixture poured over it, and pressed down a little.
This made a very moist souffle, so it took 40 minutes to bake it to a clean knife.  I let it sit and cool a bit before I cut it to serve it so it could solidify.  There was still liquid around the edges of the souffle.

If I cooked it any more, it might have burned or been over-cooked.
I served it with some salsa and sour cream over the top.

The Verdict

This is so very good, always, and this particular recipe has more cheese in it than most.  If that bothers you, I think it would be fine to use less.

The cheese makes it rich, the chilies (which are not spicy hot) give it an exotic twist, and the milk-and-egg mixture, which cooked like a custard, ties everything together and yet also adds a depth of savory flavor, probably from the milk being condensed.  The salsa and sour cream just bring the flavor combinations to a peak, especially with the coolness of the sour cream as a counterpoint to the hot souffle.

It is rich, so a small piece can be very satisfying.  However, the taste is so good, you will probably want a second piece.  The leftovers are good, too!

A close up of the cut-away view.
I made this for a party appetizer once, so I used a bigger pan -- this makes it thinner -- and 6 eggs to make sure it was firm and more like a fritatta.  Once cool, I cut it into small squares so that the party guests could get two or three bites from each piece as a taste.  I served it with a salsa-and-sour cream mixture they could spoon over the top.  It worked well.

The extra liquid is sometimes worrisome, so I have drained it off before serving the souffle.  This is especially helpful when serving it at a party -- cut the pieces and let them drain a bit, then put them on a serving platter.  That makes it easy (not sloppy) to serve.

Reheated, with toppings.  Not soggy; firm and easy to serve
Success, as always!  I hope you try and enjoy one of my Most Favorite recipes.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Makin' Bacon, Again!

You know, when you have a big bag of Basic Dry Cure just sitting around in the cupboard, well, you have to do something with it...

I acquired a ten pound slab of pork belly, which I cut into three about-equal pieces.

My first attempt at making bacon at home is posted here.

The first thing I did was see just how much 30 grams of dry cure looked like -- and it was much less than a 1/4 cup scoop!  No wonder my first attempt at bacon was too salty!  I put on probably close to 50 grams of cure the first time, then another 50 grams after I accidentally dumped the liquid.

I decided to do the flavored bacon, and I chose to make one sweet and two savory.

Sweet:  The sweet one used a mixed of basic dry cure (30 grams) and 125 grams of brown sugar, as suggested by the authors of Charcuterie.

Savory 1:  The first savory had 30 grams of the dry cure mixed with approximately 5 garlic cloves, crushed in a mortar along with 3 bay leaves.  I also put in 10 grams of peppercorns some of which were lightly crushed between two cast iron skillets.  Note to self:  Roll the skillet that is crushing.  Don't pound with it!  Unless, of course, you want to have tiny peppercorns flying all over like popping corn.

Savory 2:  The second savory one had 30 grams of the dry cure mixed with approximately 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and 7 springs of fresh marjoram. This mixture was wonderfully fragrant, as was first savory mix.

I put them each in their own big bag and popped into the little refrigerator.  I made a note on the calendar to "overhaul" them every two days:  this is turning the meat over and allowing the cure to redistribute around the meat.

The first time I went to overhaul them, I found a large puddle of sticky liquid all around the outside of the refrigerator.  I was surprised because I made an effort to make sure all the bags were zipped closed.  It turns out the sweet cure mixture's bag had one little part that was not fully closed, and so it leaked all over.  Grrr.  I decided to just close up the bag and not add anything else.  I still overhauled it every other day as directed.  The other two bags were fine.

I left them to cure for 14 days this time.  The book recommends a week but I have read in other places that it is okay to keep curing it longer.  The bacon might be salty from this length of time, but I am willing to find out.

On Day 14, I pulled them from the cure, rinsed them well, and patted them dry.  The meat was firm, so they seemed properly cured.  (I hope!)

The two savories, pre-smoking.

The sweet, sitting atop the savories, pre-smoking.
A friend was willing to smoke them for me.  He used charcoal, got the smoker to 200 degrees F, and slow smoked them until their internal temperature was 150 degrees F.  He used applewood chips, and it took 2 hours and 10 minutes to get the bacon to temperature.

Oh, the scent!  It was lovely!  They looked good, too.

In order, left to right:  Savory 2, Brown Sugar, Savory 1
The Verdict

I tasted them while they were still warm from the smoker.

Savory 1 was strongly peppery -- the peppercorn flavor was dominant, and while I couldn't distinctly taste the garlic and bay leaf, I could tell there was an undercurrent of "other" flavors playing with the pepper.

Savory 2 was mildly peppery.  Actually, it blended with the other flavors nicely to give a pleasant savory flavor that went well with the smoke flavor.

Brown Sugar was mildly sweet--remember that a lot of the cure leaked out--but still flavorful.  I would like to try it again without a leaky bag!

I liked them all, as they were.  Next up:  frying up the slices to see how those taste.

I did try to cut off the rind but found that I was cutting off meat, too.  I decided that the rind was really just fat and I didn't need to worry about it.  Why waste tasty food?  I am not sure what the rind actually should look like and what was there was not chewy.  Perhaps I will find out about it some day.

The taste test for fried bacon was conducted by me and one guest taster.

Top two:  Savory 2, next: Brown Sugar, bottom: Savory 1
I found it hard to cut the slices reasonably thin, so I slow-cooked them to make sure they were cooked all the way.

We both liked all three flavors, although we agreed the brown sugar version was unremarkable.  I would like to try it again some time without a leaky bag.  I thought my guest taster's favorite would be Savory 1 because its flavors were so bold, but he liked Savory 2 best, as did I.  I liked the boldness of Savory 1 (the garlic and pepper really stood out) but thought Savory 2 had a better balance of flavors.  No one ingredient in Savory 2 stood out; it was all just a lovely blend.

None of the bacon flavors were too salty, for which I was grateful.  I would do all of these again and look forward to experimenting with other flavor combinations.


Now I have about 5 pounds of home-cured bacon in my freezer, and the person who did the smoking has 3 pounds.  Yes, I got about 8 pounds of cured bacon from a 10 pound pork belly.  I think this was a good result, and I am happy to have it all.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Stuffed Eggs, part 2 -- another recipe from the Transylvanian cookbook

This is my second attempt at stuffing eggs by following a recipe from the Transylvanian cookbook.  You can see the first attempt's write up here. 

This is the digital translation of a book in Hungarian that I have tried recipes from before.  Here is the book reference:

The Prince of Transylvania’s court cookbook 

From the 16th century 


You can find a copy of it here:  http://www.medievalcookery.com/etexts/transylvania-v2.pdf

The recipes I have tried are here:  Prince of Transylvania's court cookbook

These are the recipes I picked out.  Today I am trying the second one, using the experience and ideas I got from trying the first one.

Stuffed Eggs

(532) Stuffed eggs. Poke a hole into the eggs, blow out the insides, fry it and slice it, stuff it with honey, black pepper, currants, saffron and cinnamon, then put it on a thin skewer, roast it far from the coal, then serve it.

(599) Egg stuffed in shell. Put twelve eggs on a plate, poke a hole in them, blow out the white and the yolk. Once blown out, add black pepper, saffron and salt, put them into butter and cook it, cut it with a knife, whip two raw eggs, add sugar, small grapes and some parsley. Then pour it back into the egg shell. Make a skewer, put the eggs on it, and roast them.

(601) Stuffed egg white. Wash the egg, boil it, once boiling, pour the hot water down and add some cold water. Poke the end, blow out the yolk onto a pot, leave the whites inside. Cook the yolk like scrambled eggs, add sugar, saffron, black pepper, salt and small grapes. Put some parsley and whip some eggs into it, stuff it into the shell, boil it again in water, once boiled, take down the shell, only the white will be stuffed. Put it on a skewer and roast it; you can make any sauce.

My Redaction

5 eggs
butter for cooking the eggs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 pinches ground saffron
1/4 tsp salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons dried currants
1 teaspoon dried parsley

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F.

Pierce and blow four of the eggs as described in part 1.  Set aside the shells.

Beat the whites and yolks well, then mix in the black pepper, saffron, and salt.

Melt the butter and scramble the eggs, but stop the cooking while the eggs are still very moist.  Immediately move the eggs into a bowl and cut or mash with a fork.

Scrambled, still moist

Scrambled, moist, and broken up with a fork
Add the sugar, parsley, and currants, then mix well. 

All the ingredients together
Pierce and blow the remaining egg.  Beat the white and yolk, then add to the scrambled egg mixture.  Mix well.  The result should be very wet and chunky.

Using a small spoon, fill each shell to almost full.  It is like feeding a baby:  Spoon some into the hole and then use the spoon to scoop up and redeposit what didn't make it into the hole the first time.  Also, it helps to hold the shell so that one finger covers the little hole in the bottom to stop leaks.

Wipe the filled shell with a damp cloth to clean it, then dry it with another cloth. 

Once all the shells are filled, bake for 35 minutes.  Serve hot or warm.

Note:  The stuffing may have expanded and run onto the outside of the shell.  You might want to wipe it off with a warm, damp cloth before serving.

In need of cleaning

The Verdict

One goal I had this time was to boost the flavorings up to make the stuffing more interesting.  All my guest tasters agreed I achieved that goal.  Even the person who said the first attempt was bland and not exciting!  While one said the texture was still very much like oatmeal, it was intriguing and flavorful oatmeal, which made all the difference.  Everyone liked the result.

Easiest to eat it cut in half.
I could taste the egg (the chunks were bigger this time) and the pepper made an interesting tingle on my tongue.  The salt and sweet balance were just right, and the saffron and parsley made a light undercurrent of flavor throughout.  The currants were pleasant little bursts of chewy and sweet to give a change to the texture.

We all agreed this would make a fun sotelty, as something to serve at the beginning of the meal to start it off with a fun surprise.  Each egg was just a few bites, a perfect size for an appetizer.


It was easier to stuff the shells with the very moist mixture.  The moisture made the mixture flow more into the shell.  It was easier to compact it by gently shaking the egg or stirring the mixture with a thin tool.  It took less time to stuff each shell.

I baked them longer this time because I wanted to make sure it they were cooked all the way through.  35 minutes achieved that, although I think they could have gone longer, up to 40 minutes.  The inside texture was moist but cooked, and not at all dry.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Stuffed Eggs, part 1 -- another recipe from the Transylvanian cookbook

It is time to pick a recipe from the Transylvanian Prince's Cookbook!

This is the digital translation of a book in Hungarian that I have tried recipes from before.  Here is the book reference:

The Prince of Transylvania’s court cookbook 

From the 16th century 


You can find a copy of it here:  http://www.medievalcookery.com/etexts/transylvania-v2.pdf

The recipes I have tried are here:  Prince of Transylvania's court cookbook

Today I picked out three recipes, and I picked three because of how similar they are.  The first and second look pretty straightforward.  I considered the third and decided I really didn't want to try that, at least not for my first attempt.

Stuffed Eggs

(532) Stuffed eggs. Poke a hole into the eggs, blow out the insides, fry it and slice it, stuff it with honey, black pepper, currants, saffron and cinnamon, then put it on a thin skewer, roast it far from the coal, then serve it.

(599) Egg stuffed in shell. Put twelve eggs on a plate, poke a hole in them, blow out the white and the yolk. Once blown out, add black pepper, saffron and salt, put them into butter and cook it, cut it with a knife, whip two raw eggs, add sugar, small grapes and some parsley. Then pour it back into the egg shell. Make a skewer, put the eggs on it, and roast them.

(601) Stuffed egg white. Wash the egg, boil it, once boiling, pour the hot water down and add some cold water. Poke the end, blow out the yolk onto a pot, leave the whites inside. Cook the yolk like scrambled eggs, add sugar, saffron, black pepper, salt and small grapes. Put some parsley and whip some eggs into it, stuff it into the shell, boil it again in water, once boiled, take down the shell, only the white will be stuffed. Put it on a skewer and roast it; you can make any sauce.

I loved the idea behind all of these recipes:  They are creating a "sotelty", an illusion food.  What is served might look like a hard-cooked egg, but when you crack it open, you get a surprise.

I think it is worth a try!

My redaction for the first recipe:

4 eggs
butter for cooking the eggs
1 1/2 to 2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tablespoon dried currants
a pinch of saffron

I warmed the honey so it would be liquid.
First, preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

Preparing the eggs

I took a small appetizer fork that has very sharp points and used it to poke a big hole (about 1 cm diameter) in the blunt end of each egg.  I had to poke some tiny holes first, then the shell started cracking and I was able to pick out bits of shell until the opening was big enough and somewhat round.  Then I poked a very small hole on the pointy end of the egg.

Big hole, with little in the back.

Little hole, just bigger than the skewer diameter
Holding the big opening over a bowl, I blew on the small hole until the yolk and white left the shell.  Then I wiped down the shell.

I think it is inevitable that some tiny bits of shell will get into the whites/yolk, but I was able to pick out most of them before I beat it with a fork until they were well scrambled.

The cooking part

I melted some butter in a pan and gently cooked the eggs.  I intentionally undercooked them so they would be very moist.  I wanted my final mixture to still need cooking once the shells were stuffed.

Moist eggs
I used the fork to break up the eggs and to mix in the spices, currants, and honey.  I added the honey last and tasted the mixture several times until I thought it was lightly spiced and moist enough.

With all the ingredients, and broken up with the fork into small pieces
To stuff the shells, I used the tines of the fork to scoop up the egg mixture and place it over the hole.  Then I used the flat of the fork to gently push the stuffing into the hole.  Sometimes I used the appetizer fork to push the stuffing down once it was inside the shell.

Don't worry about the mess on the shell, it will clean up.
When I felt I couldn't put in any more stuffing, I first wiped the shell with a damp cloth, then dried it with another cloth.

Each stuffed egg felt heavier than they were before they were blown.  Also, the amount of stuffing was just right:  I had just a little left over in the pan once I was through.  I put in effort to compact the stuffing while I was putting it in.

Four stuffed eggs, all clean and pretty!
The baking part

The recipe called for putting the eggs on a skewer, which I assumed would be necessary for roasting eggs over coals.  While I was stuffing the eggs (it took a while), I decided that the skewer would make a fun visual effect for serving, so I put two eggs on one skewer.  Be sure to put the tip of the skewer into the small hole first, so that it is easy to find the big hole as the skewer exits the stuffing.
I think this looks neat!

I put the eggs on a tray and baked them for 20 minutes.

The Verdict

I served them as they were, right out of the oven.

It took a little experimenting, but we found the best way (I thought) to eat them was to crack them in the middle with the edge of the spoon, which allowed the eggs to be broken in half by hand.  Then we used the spoon to scoop out the stuffing from each half.  The first attempt (see the pictures) was to peel the eggs like a hard-cooked egg and then scoop, but that made a big mess of shell.  It was too easy to eat some shell in the process.

We cracked the shell with the bowl of the spoon, or tapped it on the plate.
Peeling away the shell.

Ready to eat!
I did not tell my guest tasters what was in the stuffing.  I challenged them to tell me what they tasted.  

One was certain the stuffing was mostly rice, with some spices and currents.  He wasn't impressed with it and thought it needed salt.  He did salt several bites and said that improved the flavor.  In the end, he said it wasn't bad but he didn't think it was exciting.

The other two guests thought the stuffing was mostly oatmeal.  Once they knew it was egg, they decided they thought it was oatmeal because it had the sorts of flavors they associate with it (honey, cinnamon, currants or raisins).  They said there was enough blandness that it seemed like oatmeal.  

However, they liked it and were intrigued with the technique.  We discussed ways to make the stuffing more appealing, and agreed it needs a bit of salt and more spice to really bump up the flavor.

Success!  I want to do it again with those improvements.

There are some things I would do differently.  I wish that I had taken the scrambled eggs out of the pan before mixing in the other ingredients.  I think the eggs cooked more than I wanted from the residual heat in the pan, and I wasn't happy about that.  Perhaps the result would have been more flavorful on its own.  I also think I would mix the saffron into the uncooked eggs so it could flavor them better while they cooked.

While preparing the stuffing, I thought a lot about the purpose of baking the eggs.  I decided it was to heat them all the way through, and perhaps to get the stuffing firmed up in the shell.  That is why I picked a low temperature (slow heating to get through to the center) and left them in there for 20 minutes.  I think it was a good choice.  The stuffing was very warm completely into the center.  

We had a good conversation about other stuffings to make.  The idea I liked best was to mix the uncooked beaten eggs with a little salt, tiny bits of cooked bacon or sausage, and some herbs or spices or chives or green onion.  After plugging the tiny hole with a bit of cheese, pour the egg mixture back into the shell.  Bake it to serve an omelet in its shell!

Tune in tomorrow to read about my second attempt at stuffed eggs.  

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Makin' Bacon at Home

It is fun to learn the "old" skills.  I have often asked myself, "How did they do/make this back before they had...?"  

In this case it was, "How did they make bacon before grocery stores made it prevalent and easy to acquire?"  It is an old skill that has been making a comeback, which is why this book, Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn, caught my attention in a bookstore one day.  I must also admit that my interest was peaked while at the Culinary Symposia -- so many people there are accomplished at curing and smoking meats.  I loved tasting their impressive accomplishments.

I was taken in by this quote from Charcuterie (page 40):
... what you make at home will be superior to just about anything you can buy at supermarkets.  Most of the bacon there comes from factory-raised hogs, the curing done at commercial plants, and the result is thin strips of watery meat that, even when cooked until crisp, have a taste only reminiscent of real bacon.
When you make your own bacon and fry a slice, you'll know what bacon is all about.  Notice the copious amount of fat that renders out, and that the meat doesn't reduce in size by fifty percent.  The result can give you an understanding of why bacon became such a powerful part of America's culinary culture. 
I decided that my first attempt at curing bacon should use the most basic technique.

First I made the dry cure mixture.  The authors note that the ingredients need to be weighed, not measured, for a cure that will work as advertised.  For example, they say that Morton's Kosher salt weighs 8 ounces for one cup, but that Diamond Crystal (the brand I used) weighs 4.8 ounces for one cup.

"Pink salt" is the trade term for salt mixed with nitrite.  It is 93.75 percent salt and 6.25 percent nitrite.  The mix is dyed pink so it cannot be easily confused with regular salt.  Nitrites, consumed in large quantities, are dangerous.  Be careful!  But their small quantities are important in the curing mixture to help prevent botulism.

The Basic Dry Cure with Granulated Sugar (page 39)
1 pound/450 grams kosher salt
8 ounces/225 grams sugar 
8 teaspoons/56 grams pink salt

Combine all the ingredients, mixing well.  Stored in a plastic container, this keeps indefinitely.

When well mixed, it is slightly pink in color
Once I had the dry cure together, I set up the pork belly in a bag with the cure, as described below.  My pork belly weighed about 2 pounds, so I followed the instructions that use just a plastic bag, not a baking sheet.

Fresh Bacon (pages 42-43)
One 3- to 5-pound/1.5- to 2.25 kilogram slab pork belly, skin on
Basic Dry Cure as necessary for dredging (about 1/4 cup/50 grams)
Skin side is down
If your belly weighs between 3 and 5 pounds/1.5 and 2.25 kilograms, it's fine to simplify the method by placing the belly in the Ziplok bag, adding 1/4 cup/30 grams of dry cure along with whatever additional sugar and seasonings  of your choice, closing the bag and shaking it to distribute the ingredients.  It is no more complicated than that.

The pork will release a lot of liquid as it cures, and it's important that the meat and the container are a good fit so that the cure remains in contact with the meat.  The salty cure liquid that will be released, water leached from the pork by the salt, must be allowed to surround the meat for continuous curing.  The plastic bag allows you to redistribute the cure (technically called overhauling) without touching the meat, which is cleaner and easier.  Refrigerate the belly for 7 days, flipping the bag or meat to redistribute the cure liquid every other day. 
After 7 days, check the belly for firmness.  If it feels firm at its thickest point, it's cured.  One week should be enough time to cure the bacon, but if it still feels squishy, refrigerate it for up to 2 more days.   
Remove the belly from the cure, rinse it thoroughly, and pat it dry with paper towels, discard the curing liquid.  It can rest in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days at this point. 
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F./93 degrees C. 
Put the belly in a roasting pan, preferably on a rack for even cooking, and roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F./65 degrees C., about 2 hours; begin taking its temperature after 1 1/2 hours.  It will have an appealing roasted appearance and good aroma, and it will feel firm to the touch.  Remove the rind or skin, now, when the fat is still hot, using a large sharp chef's knife. 
Allow the bacon to cool to room temperature (try a piece now though, straight out of the oven--it's irresistible; remember that end pieces may be a little more salty than the rest).  Once it is cool, wrap well and refrigerate.

There are more instructions on testing the bacon for saltiness and correcting it if too salty.  They also say that you can freeze it for up to 3 months if you won't be using it all up within 1 to 2 weeks.

My Notes

I didn't include the list of "additional sugar and seasonings" since I wasn't planning on using them.

My pork belly weighed about 2 pounds.  I still used 1/4 cup of the dry cure, which I scooped, not weighed.  (Note:  They listed 1/4 cup as both 30 grams and 50 grams.  The Internet tells me 30 grams is correct.)

After I shook it and turned the belly inside the bag to cover it with the cure, I pressed out as much air from the bag as I could, and put it into the refrigerator.

The cure crystals as they sit on the pork belly surface
And then a small disaster occurred.  I had been looking at the bacon and, not realizing I had left the bag open, turned it over and dumped much of the liquid onto the floor.  It was one day into the process, so I put in another 1/4 cup of the dry cure and hoped for the best.

I remembered to turn it as described.  On the last day I rinsed it well and patted it dry while the oven was preheating.

Rinsed, dried, ready for the oven.

The other side, on the rack and the baking pan.

It took just a little over 2 hours for the internal temperature to reach 150 degrees F.

Looks good to me!

I took the rind off, carving it off in pieces.

I think I need to practice this skill.
I tried a piece while it was still warm.  It was tasty but it was an end piece and it was almost too salty for my taste buds.

After a few days, I cut off two small pieces, cooked them, and ate them.

Two end pieces

The Verdict

The pieces looked good.  They smelled good.  They didn't shrink.

But oh, they were too salty!  It was hard for me to assess their overall flavor because I was reacting to the saltiness.  My three guest tasters all thought the saltiness was just right, and were very pleased with the rich flavor it had.

I didn't try the techniques described for reducing the saltiness, which are essentially to blanch the bacon.  But I did use it in the Transylvanian recipe of Veal in Grape Leaves.  It gave the filling just the right amount of saltiness, as well as a rich, meaty flavor.

So I would call this a success, with the thought in mind that I will try it again to see if I can improve on the salt level.  I will try to keep all of the liquid in with the meat this time (!) and weigh the cure before I put it into the bag.  It is possible that the bacon was too salty because I used too much cure.